As an African American man who lived through the 1960s and now has two sons and three very young grandsons, the specter of systemic racism keeps me up at night. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called my sons during the past week — just to know where they are, to hear their voices, to make sure they are safe. Unless things change, my sons will have the same conversations with my grandsons when they are older. There should be no controversy in declaring that the lives of my sons and grandsons matter. Black lives matter.
And as a union leader, I know the agony so many police officers feel when yet another senseless tragedy occurs. In denouncing the murder of George Floyd, Sgt. Jeffrey Reimer, who leads 2,000 AFSCME-represented police officers in Connecticut said, “What happened to Mr. Floyd was anabsolute misuse of force. It never should have happened. The Minneapolis police officers involved in this heinous action put the rest of us at risk. There is no justification for what they did.”
Floyd killing no excuse to bash unions
Let’s be clear:
►No union contract is or should be construed as a shield for misconduct or criminal behavior. In fact, the four officers in Minneapolis were fired the day after George Floyd was killed, and now they’ve all been charged.
►While union contracts do not shield police brutality or other criminal behavior and while most officers understand that their sworn oaths demand a higher standard of conduct, it is incumbent upon law enforcement officers to work within our communities, along with politicians, prosecutors and police chiefs, to stamp out a culture among some that “anything goes” on the streets.
►Andugly rhetoric from a labor leader, such as the opinions expressed by the president of the independent Minneapolis police union, who is a disgrace to the labor movement andshould resign, does not provide an excuse to bash unions.
Everyone should have the freedom to join a union, police officers included. Period. The tragic killing of George Floyd should not be used as a pretext to undermine the rights of workers
Enough with words and task forces
More than half a century ago, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. declared thatlabor rights are civil rights. The 1.4 million members of the union I lead, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — which includes thousands of law enforcement officers — feels unique kinship with Dr. King and his mission. He was assassinated while helping 1,300 striking black sanitation workers who had formed an AFSCME local union and carried signs in Memphis that declared, “I am a man.”
Black people and our allies across America are outraged at the betrayal we have experienced. We have been told, since the founding of our nation, that we’re all created equal. We have been told that if we obey the law and play by the rules, the American dream will be attainable. But this promise is never realized.
While the peaceful protests must continue, enough with the rhetoric and the blue ribbon commissions and the task forces. We know what the problems are. We need to implement real solutions that people see and feel on their streets and in their communities. Just as it was wrong when racists went out of their way to exclude black people from unions, it is wrong to deny this freedom to police officers today.